Commentary Magazine


Topic: Newtown

A Dishonest Post-Newtown Gun Debate

Two years ago this month, America was transfixed by one of the most horrific domestic tragedies in recent memory. A mad gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and slaughtered 20 children and six adults. The crime motivated President Obama and most of the mainstream media to take up the cause of gun control with fervor unmatched by any other campaign on the issue. But despite the use of the families of the victims to shame opponents of further restrictions on gun sales that treated them as the moral equivalent of murderers, such efforts largely failed, especially at the federal level. That defeat was attributed to the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lobbies but a new Pew Research Center Poll reveals a very unwelcome truth for liberals: most Americans back gun rights and oppose those who wish to restrict or take them away.

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Two years ago this month, America was transfixed by one of the most horrific domestic tragedies in recent memory. A mad gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and slaughtered 20 children and six adults. The crime motivated President Obama and most of the mainstream media to take up the cause of gun control with fervor unmatched by any other campaign on the issue. But despite the use of the families of the victims to shame opponents of further restrictions on gun sales that treated them as the moral equivalent of murderers, such efforts largely failed, especially at the federal level. That defeat was attributed to the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lobbies but a new Pew Research Center Poll reveals a very unwelcome truth for liberals: most Americans back gun rights and oppose those who wish to restrict or take them away.

The survey shows that for the first time since they began asking the question 20 years ago, more Americans support gun rights than those who say it is more important to control gun ownership by a 52-46 percent margin. This is a historic shift, made all the more dramatic by the fact that it reversed a 51-45 percent margin on the question that favored more gun control when the question was asked in January 2013.

The reasons why Americans think this way may flummox liberals who think the preservation of the Second Amendment’s Constitutional protections of the right to bear arms are a historical anachronism. The Pew survey reveals that those who believe owning guns makes them safer outnumber those who think they put people’s safety at risk by a whopping 57-38 percent margin.

Drilling down into the numbers provides some interesting insights into national opinion about guns. The number of African-Americans who believe owning a gun makes them safer has nearly doubled in the last two years. Yet in spite of that fact, the partisan divide on the issue remains stark with Republicans supporting gun rights 76-22 percent while Democrats support gun control 69-28 percent.

This should provide significant food for thought for political consultants pondering how the parties should approach the next presidential election. While liberals may have believed that time was on their side in the gun debate it appears that they are losing ground. By the same token, this is a reminder to Republicans that their opportunity lies in exploiting the dislike for such measures among middle and working class voters who care about the right to own a gun and unconvinced by liberals that wish to restrict such rights.

But even more importantly, this survey illustrates just how dishonest most of the discussion about gun rights from the mainstream media has been in recent years. Liberal ideologues in the media and politics have spent so much time trying to demonize the NRA and its supporters that they missed the fact that the group, for all of its flaws and occasional mistakes, remains one of the largest grass-roots organizations in the country. If the NRA’s membership boomed after Newtown it was not because gun nuts were paranoid but because a growing number of Americans understood that the goal of the president and other liberals wasn’t so much common sense gun control as it was to take the first steps towards stripping the right of Americans to bear arms away from them.

There may be a case for measures that might restrict sales of guns under certain circumstances but the poll makes it obvious that more Americans think they are more at risk if government makes it harder to own a gun. When those who advocate such measures in the future attack the NRA in the future, they should do so by arguing that new laws are necessary not because the gun lobby is a nefarious conspiracy promoted by heartless big business. As Pew has proven to us this week, the more they speak that way the farther they are getting from the truth about the American people and their willingness to defend their safety and their rights.

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Latest Gun-Control Push Explains Why It Will Fail

The tragedy in Isla Vista, California last week is leading to new calls for more gun-control legislation. The actions of Elliot Rodger, the disturbed person who murdered six people (three by stabbing and three by shooting) at the University of California at Santa Barbara is seen by some as yet another reason for Congress to act to make it more difficult to purchase weapons or to ban them. The anguished demand of Richard Martinez, a parent of one of the victims, “When will this insanity stop?” rapidly went viral and his accusation that his son’s death was the fault of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” is being taken up by those who are still wondering why the national outrage at the shooting of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t result in the enactment of more gun laws.

But this time even liberals are conceding that Martinez’s demands won’t be heeded. As Chris Cilizza writes today in the Washington Post, resistance to more draconian restrictions has stiffened since Newtown and more states have loosened gun laws than tightened them. Though some on the left, like the Los Angeles Times’s Steve Lopez, are doubling down on the anger about guns that such incidents provoke, the main reaction from liberals is to lament the fact that the emotional surge after a shooting has never provided the tipping point on the issue they desire. Though polls have always shown public sympathy for proposals for more background checks, as Cillizza notes, support for more gun control in general has actually dwindled in the last two decades, including in the last year since Newtown.

Why? There are two reasons. One has to do with the fact that the public rightly believes that such laws won’t prevent mass killings by madmen. The other has to do with a belief that such calls are not about “common sense gun control” but abrogation of constitutional gun rights. Indeed, the anger of gun-control advocates after these tragedies has the perverse effect of heightening suspicions about their true intent.

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The tragedy in Isla Vista, California last week is leading to new calls for more gun-control legislation. The actions of Elliot Rodger, the disturbed person who murdered six people (three by stabbing and three by shooting) at the University of California at Santa Barbara is seen by some as yet another reason for Congress to act to make it more difficult to purchase weapons or to ban them. The anguished demand of Richard Martinez, a parent of one of the victims, “When will this insanity stop?” rapidly went viral and his accusation that his son’s death was the fault of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” is being taken up by those who are still wondering why the national outrage at the shooting of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t result in the enactment of more gun laws.

But this time even liberals are conceding that Martinez’s demands won’t be heeded. As Chris Cilizza writes today in the Washington Post, resistance to more draconian restrictions has stiffened since Newtown and more states have loosened gun laws than tightened them. Though some on the left, like the Los Angeles Times’s Steve Lopez, are doubling down on the anger about guns that such incidents provoke, the main reaction from liberals is to lament the fact that the emotional surge after a shooting has never provided the tipping point on the issue they desire. Though polls have always shown public sympathy for proposals for more background checks, as Cillizza notes, support for more gun control in general has actually dwindled in the last two decades, including in the last year since Newtown.

Why? There are two reasons. One has to do with the fact that the public rightly believes that such laws won’t prevent mass killings by madmen. The other has to do with a belief that such calls are not about “common sense gun control” but abrogation of constitutional gun rights. Indeed, the anger of gun-control advocates after these tragedies has the perverse effect of heightening suspicions about their true intent.

The lack of any real connection between most gun-control proposals, including the most anodyne involving background checks such as last year’s bill sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, and the actual chain of events leading to crimes such as the ones at Newtown or Isla Vista undermines the argument that these laws would save lives. Most of those who commit gun violence would never fall under the category of those whom the checks would prevent from purchasing a gun. Moreover, those who would be stopped can almost certainly obtain them by extralegal means.

Even more frustrating is the possibility that even an emphasis on mental health—which is the underlying cause of almost all mass shootings—wouldn’t do much to prevent these incidents from occurring. As clinical psychiatrist Richard Friedman explains today in a New York Times op-ed:

As a psychiatrist, I welcome calls from our politicians to improve our mental health care system. But even the best mental health care is unlikely to prevent these tragedies.

If we can’t reliably identify people who are at risk of committing violent acts, then how can we possibly prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who are likely to kill? Mr. Rodger had no problem legally buying guns because he had neither been institutionalized nor involuntarily hospitalized, both of which are generally factors that would have prevented him from purchasing firearms.

Would lowering the threshold for involuntary psychiatric treatment, as some argue, be effective in preventing mass killings or homicide in general? It’s doubtful.

Friedman concludes that the idea that improving our mental health system might prevent such horrors is a myth. While that shouldn’t preclude us from efforts in that direction, the sobering truth is that these shocking yet rare incidents can’t be legislated out of existence. This is a piece of wisdom that increasingly large numbers of Americans seem to have figured out for themselves without benefit of a degree in psychiatry.

Just as important in explaining the failure of more gun control is the fact that most gun owners and others who support Second Amendment rights don’t believe the assurances they hear from liberals about not wanting to take away their guns. Indeed, the more they hear from those advocating more restrictions, the less they trust them. In particular, this latest incident in which Rodger shot three of the victims with a handgun makes the case for such laws even more difficult. Gun-control advocates seized on the assault weapon used in Newtown as an example of the sort of gun that ought not be legal. Though the distinction between that sort of rifle and others was largely cosmetic, it made sense to a lot of Americans. But there is a broad judicial consensus that the right to possess a handgun is not in question. If, in response to Martinez’s heartfelt pleas, liberals think they can leverage the Santa Barbara incident into another legislative push, the effort may backfire.

The nation should grieve with Mr. Martinez and the other families who have suffered as a result of Isla Vista murders. But blaming the crime on politicians and the NRA tells us more about the need to vent about a senseless atrocity than it does about reasonable policy options. If calls for more gun control have been rejected, it is not because our politicians are too corrupt or the NRA too powerful. It is because most Americans rightly believe more such laws would do no good and possibly abridge their constitutional rights.

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Guns, Hollywood Hypocrisy, and the NRA

More than 13 months after the Newtown massacre, gun control remains at the top of the liberal agenda. But resistance to more restrictions on gun ownership or more intrusive procedures has frustrated this campaign despite the best efforts of President Obama and the mainstream media. Indeed, as I wrote last month, polls now show even greater opposition to tougher gun laws than existed a year ago. Much of the resistance comes from a public smart enough to understand that the laws the president wants to pass wouldn’t have prevented Newtown. Moreover, many Americans simply don’t trust liberals when they say they just want commonsense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane. Though the president and other liberals say they don’t want to take your gun away, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have seen their membership rise in the last 13 months because a lot of people think that is exactly what he wants to do. Of course, he also promised that you could keep your doctor too.

More ammunition for those who hold that view was provided this week by one of the president’s leading fundraisers: Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Speaking on the Howard Stern radio show, Weinstein launched into a tirade about his opposition to legal gun ownership and said he was planning to make a movie with actress Meryl Streep about the gun issue that would make the NRA “wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them.” Weinstein also said, “I don’t think we need guns in this country, and I hate it, and I think the NRA is a disaster area.”

While taking seriously anything said by anyone in the movie business  in a political context is probably a mistake, this snippet at least provides a fair representation of the core beliefs of the president and his major supporters. But more than that, since the glorification of gun mania in pop culture is widely believed to be one of the most significant reasons why our country is home to so many weapons-related crimes, when the producer of some of the most violent movies in our history speaks out against guns, it gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

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More than 13 months after the Newtown massacre, gun control remains at the top of the liberal agenda. But resistance to more restrictions on gun ownership or more intrusive procedures has frustrated this campaign despite the best efforts of President Obama and the mainstream media. Indeed, as I wrote last month, polls now show even greater opposition to tougher gun laws than existed a year ago. Much of the resistance comes from a public smart enough to understand that the laws the president wants to pass wouldn’t have prevented Newtown. Moreover, many Americans simply don’t trust liberals when they say they just want commonsense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane. Though the president and other liberals say they don’t want to take your gun away, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have seen their membership rise in the last 13 months because a lot of people think that is exactly what he wants to do. Of course, he also promised that you could keep your doctor too.

More ammunition for those who hold that view was provided this week by one of the president’s leading fundraisers: Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Speaking on the Howard Stern radio show, Weinstein launched into a tirade about his opposition to legal gun ownership and said he was planning to make a movie with actress Meryl Streep about the gun issue that would make the NRA “wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them.” Weinstein also said, “I don’t think we need guns in this country, and I hate it, and I think the NRA is a disaster area.”

While taking seriously anything said by anyone in the movie business  in a political context is probably a mistake, this snippet at least provides a fair representation of the core beliefs of the president and his major supporters. But more than that, since the glorification of gun mania in pop culture is widely believed to be one of the most significant reasons why our country is home to so many weapons-related crimes, when the producer of some of the most violent movies in our history speaks out against guns, it gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

As the Washington Examiner points out, Weinstein has done as much, if not more, than anyone to coarsen American popular culture and to fill screens with blazing guns shredding the bodies of victims. Whatever you think about the NRA, the man who brought us such movies as Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Pulp Fiction, and such classics of the cinema as Rambo 4, Grindhouse, Sin City, and the immortal Piranha 3DD is in no position to pose as a critic of America’s gun culture.

But the problem here goes far deeper than the predictable hypocrisy of wealthy Hollywood liberals. Anyone who tries to sell a skeptical public on the notion that liberals don’t want to abrogate their Second Amendment rights must deal with the fact that Americans know very well that people like Weinstein and his political hero Obama want to do exactly that, in spite of the president’s disclaimers. It might be possible to pass more sensible background-checks laws if so many voters didn’t believe, as does the NRA, that they would just be the thin edge of the wedge assaulting the Second Amendment.

It’s also worth noting that one of the things Weinstein was discussing on the Stern show was a project he was working on about a film depicting Jews resisting the Nazis during the Holocaust. When the libertarian-minded Stern asked Weinstein whether it was inconsistent to make a movie about people using guns, the movie mogul replied that such conduct was justified in the context of the Nazis’ genocidal plans. He’s right about that. But while fears that liberals are planning to take away private guns in order to facilitate a totalitarian state are absurd, Weinstein and others who share his prejudices should understand the purpose of the Second Amendment was to preserve the ability of the American people to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. While that may seem far-fetched today in an era when individuals with rifles or pistols pose little threat to modern states, the principle is unchanged.

Weinstein’s threats that he will undermine the NRA with his new film aren’t likely to worry the group. Left-coast liberals have every right to use their money to advance causes and candidates they support. But so do the five million members of the NRA, as well as other Americans who, while not gun owners themselves, support its positions. As we have seen in the last year, grass roots support for the rights of gun owners has repeatedly trumped big-money campaigns funded by people such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others who agree with Weinstein. As long as the political left and its Hollywood ATM machines keep showing their contempt for the Constitution, the NRA has little to fear from Harvey Weinstein or Meryl Streep. 

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Sheriffs Think Gun Laws Are Waste of Time

One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

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One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

It should first be admitted that lawsuits filed by sheriffs challenging new gun laws on constitutional grounds are stunts, rather than a serious legal argument. County sheriffs have no more right to refuse to enforce gun laws passed by their states because they say they violate the Second Amendment than the mayors and city councils of those municipalities that have publicly stated they won’t enforce immigration laws have to act in that manner. Being a sheriff or a mayor doesn’t give you the right to assume the role of the Supreme Court when it comes to determining the constitutionality of legislation, whether it is passed by a state or the federal government. Selective enforcement of the law is itself a violation of due process and those law enforcement officials that play this game are undermining their own credibility. They may not like gun laws any more than liberal legislators in the People’s Republic of Berkley, California like immigration regulations, or the administration when it comes to immigration or parts of their own ObamaCare law they find inconvenient, but they are just as obligated to see to it that the law isn’t mocked.

But the sheriffs are on much firmer ground when they note that much of the new gun legislation–and especially those measures that were rushed through some legislatures after Newtown as liberals sought to capitalize on public outrage over that atrocity–were more of a nuisance than a deterrent to gun crimes. Background checks for individuals selling their guns and high-capacity magazines makes sense to city dwellers who may not even know anyone who owns a gun for hunting or target shooting. But they are seen as irrelevant to the real problems of much of the country. As the Times points out:

Even Sheriff W. Pete Palmer of Chaffee County, one of the seven sheriffs who declined to join the federal lawsuit because he felt duty-bound to carry out the laws, said he was unlikely to aggressively enforce them. He said enforcement poses “huge practical difficulties,” and besides, he has neither the resources nor the pressure from his constituents to make active enforcement a high priority. Violations of the laws are misdemeanors.

“All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines,” he said.

The fact that such laws wouldn’t have prevented Newtown or most other high-profile acts of gun violence further undermines support for them among non-city dwellers. Thus, while sheriffs who have joined lawsuits against these laws have no right to say they will try to unilaterally nullify legislation on the basis of their own sketchy legal expertise, it may very well fall within their competence to declare such gun laws to be the moral equivalent of obsolete statutes criminalizing spitting on the sidewalk that are routinely ignored by city cops.

The problem here isn’t a gun lobby like the National Rifle Association that liberals like to demonize or out-of-control local officials as it is laws that are simply out of touch with the needs of much of the country. This goes to the heart of the debate about guns. Were liberals able to prove that burdening legal gun owners would substantially decrease gun violence they might have a leg to stand on in states like Colorado or upstate New York when it came to enforcing new pieces of legislation. But since they can’t, gun owners and sheriffs who sympathize with them consider the point of the exercise to take away their constitutional rights rather than a reasonable effort aimed at making for a safer society. That is why a year after Newtown support for more gun laws is no greater today than it was before that incident.

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Why Newtown Didn’t Lead to Gun Control

Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

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Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Liberals counted on a wave of emotion in the wake of Newtown to help bulldoze both Congress and the public into adopting their long-cherished dream to restrict gun ownership and make it more difficult to legally purchase weapons. In the first weeks after the massacre, they seemed to be right and polls reflected a surge in support for more gun laws. But after the nation started to look at the facts, the numbers changed. As CNN writes on their website:

The survey indicates that the intensity of opinion on the issue of gun control, once an advantage for gun control advocates, no longer benefits either side. In January 37% of all Americans strongly favored stricter gun laws, with 27% strongly opposed to them. Now that 10-point difference has completely disappeared, with the number who strongly oppose and strongly favor stricter gun control at essentially the same level.

Though the president and many in the media did their best to exploit the bloodshed, once it became apparent that the remedies proposed by the president had nothing to do with the crime, their momentum was stalled. No amount of rhetorical excess from President Obama or the pundits could cover up the fact that even if every item on his gun-control laundry list had been passed prior to the shooting, none of them would have prevented Adam Lanza from stealing weapons from his mother before killing her and then heading to the school where he committied senseless slaughter.

It is true that support for some measures like increased background checks and closing gun show sales loopholes do have strong support. But even there, resistance to those laws is fed by a sense that the liberals who claim they have no interest in taking anyone’s guns away aren’t telling the truth. As a Rasmussen poll conducted in September showed, 62 percent of those polled don’t think government can be trusted to enforce the laws fairly and 71 percent said it wasn’t possible for new laws to stop future Newtowns from occurring. A subsequent Rasmussen poll showed even more support for enforcing existing laws rather than trying new ones. The focus on so-called assault weapons was also quickly revealed to be more about cosmetics than firepower, further reducing the credibility of gun-control advocates.

The bottom line is that contrary to the expectations of liberals, the American people aren’t stupid. They understand that ideas like resurrecting assault-weapon bans and even more reasonable measures like background checks are items on the liberal legislative wish list, not an authentic response to a problem. While gun crimes are abhorrent, there is little reason to believe the liberal gun project will prevent them. All they will accomplish is to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to own guns. That’s why support for such laws is far lower today than it was 20 years ago when the Brady Bill passed.

More mental health initiatives may do something to stop the Adam Lanzas of the world from killing innocents, but the sense prevails that the push for gun control has more to do with a long-term war on the Second Amendment. That is why although Americans remain scarred by their memories of Newtown, they are even less likely to back liberal gun-control efforts than they were in the aftermath of the crime. Once emotion subsided, reason prevailed.

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Three Reasons Why This Isn’t Another Gun-Control Moment

Yesterday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard by a lone gunman shocked the nation. Investigators are beginning to try to piece together the answers as to why accused shooter Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people in cold blood as well as how a person that apparently had a history of run-ins with the law and mental-health problems could have gotten a job with a subcontractor for the Navy. This latest instance of gun violence also raises questions about why these incidents are becoming something we’ve come to see as regular occurrences (this is the third in the last year). Indeed, who couldn’t but sympathize with Dr. Janis Orlowski, the head of the trauma center that treated the victims, when she pleaded for an end to these atrocities:

“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate,” she said, adding that “I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots.” She added: “Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.” 

But while some will interpret this statement as a call for more gun control, it’s not likely the Navy Yard murders will lead to a new legislative push on the issue. Last December’s mass shooting of first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut may have been the impetus for what promised at the time to be the signature issue of President Obama’s second term. But nine months later, the administration may have learned that there are limited returns from exploiting such tragedies. Here are three reasons why this won’t be the start of another gun-control moment.

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Yesterday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard by a lone gunman shocked the nation. Investigators are beginning to try to piece together the answers as to why accused shooter Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people in cold blood as well as how a person that apparently had a history of run-ins with the law and mental-health problems could have gotten a job with a subcontractor for the Navy. This latest instance of gun violence also raises questions about why these incidents are becoming something we’ve come to see as regular occurrences (this is the third in the last year). Indeed, who couldn’t but sympathize with Dr. Janis Orlowski, the head of the trauma center that treated the victims, when she pleaded for an end to these atrocities:

“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate,” she said, adding that “I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots.” She added: “Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.” 

But while some will interpret this statement as a call for more gun control, it’s not likely the Navy Yard murders will lead to a new legislative push on the issue. Last December’s mass shooting of first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut may have been the impetus for what promised at the time to be the signature issue of President Obama’s second term. But nine months later, the administration may have learned that there are limited returns from exploiting such tragedies. Here are three reasons why this won’t be the start of another gun-control moment.

First is that the frequency of these incidents (even if they are a tiny fraction of all gun deaths) makes it harder to exploit the emotion they evoke for political purposes. The post-Newtown gun furor was partly the function of shock over the senseless deaths of small children and the grief of the parents and relatives. The Washington victims deserve the same sympathy as other victims, but the opening for mindless emotionalism in which all rational arguments about the virtues and defects about potential legislation are ignored isn’t as great here.

Mass shootings such as these deserve our attention, but their use as launching pads for politicized campaigns is a matter of diminishing returns. Having asked us to put aside reasoned debate about gun rights in the name of grief over Newtown, it’s difficult for even as skilled a speechmaker as President Obama to endlessly play the same game.

Second, the political class and even the media that relentlessly promoted the memory of Newtown as an unanswerable argument for restrictions on gun ownership understand that it didn’t work. While a majority of Americans favor minimal measures such as background checks, the resistance to such proposals stems from the fact that, disclaimers notwithstanding, it isn’t hard to imagine that these ideas are merely the first step toward more restrictive measures that few outside of the left support. Not even a full-court press on the part of the administration and the media was able to convince Congress to budge on guns last winter and spring. Though the National Rifle Association took a beating last December for an inept response to Newtown, the gang tackle of the liberal establishment on the group only helped it. The NRA’s membership went up, as did contributions in the wake of attacks on it after Newtown.

The recall elections in Colorado will also play a large role in dampening the enthusiasm of liberals for another tilt with the NRA. Despite an advantage in fundraising thanks to outside forces like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group, two Colorado state senators were thrown out of office in special elections held this month over their votes for new gun laws. While national Democrats have tried to obfuscate the results with transparently false charges about voter suppression, the facts on the ground told a different story. Pro-gun groups showed they could mobilize their members and sympathizers and turn them out to vote. When push came to shove, rather than being the paper tiger the press made them out to be or merely the plaything of gun manufacturers, the NRA proved again they were something that no liberal group can claim to be: a grass roots movement with enormous popular support.

Third and perhaps most important is the gap between post-Newtown rhetoric and the reality of gun laws. It’s one thing to ask people to be outraged about these incidents. They are awful and we should be upset about them. But it’s quite another to connect them to proposed laws that almost certainly wouldn’t prevent their recurrence. The American people can be manipulated but they are not stupid. Despite the emotional speeches in which victim families were used as presidential props, it quickly became apparent that nothing proposed by President Obama would have prevented the Sandy Hook killings. The same will be true if some liberals attempt to repeat the trick after Washington. The focus on guns rather than mental health—the one factor that is common to all of these incidents—just doesn’t make sense to most Americans.

Efforts to ban guns or otherwise restrict or annul Second Amendment rights will continue. So will more reasoned attempts to deal with the mental-health aspect of a tragedy that is consistently underplayed. But the ability of President Obama to exploit mass killings was shown after Newtown to be a factor with a limited shelf life. Having failed after that heart-rending incident, it’s not likely he’ll squander what little political capital he has left on a rerun of that gambit.

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The Gun Control Moment Passes

It seems a lot longer ago than just eight months. Back on January 16 of this year, President Obama sounded what was intended to be the keynote of his second term by saying that he intended to introduce a raft of legislative proposals intended to tighten controls of gun ownership. With the memory of the slaughter of little children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mad lone gunman fresh in the minds of the new Congress, some believed he would succeed in not only getting gun-control bills passed but also in routing the National Rifle Association in such a manner as to break their hold on Washington power forever. With new anti-gun groups led by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords spending big bucks to promote the issue, the NRA’s days were supposed to be numbered. But in the intervening months, the groundswell of passion on behalf of background-checks laws and other measures turned out to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination of the liberal mainstream media that relentlessly backed Obama’s play on guns.

Any lingering doubt that the gun-control moment has passed was removed last night when two Democratic state senators in Colorado were removed from office by a recall vote because of their support for new gun legislation. Despite benefiting from the infusion of more than $3 million in outside contributions from anti-gun groups, including $300,000 from Bloomberg, the pair—State Senate President John Morse and Angela Giron—was beaten by Republicans in the recall vote. What’s more, though the two Democrats were the focus of fierce opposition by the NRA, as I noted when I first wrote about these races back in July, the Democrats had a clear financial advantage in the race. The guns-rights lobby’s only advantage was in being able to mobilize a grass-roots movement.

Liberals are attempting to spin their defeat as the result of local politics and resentment about the interference of New York’s champion of nanny-state regulations in Colorado. But they’re fooling no one. Like the battle to get the U.S. Senate to pass even a watered-down version of a background checks proposal, the recall vote was a test of will between the NRA and the anti-gun movement and the former won hands down. Though terrible events like Newtown shock the nation and polls show majorities back some regulatory measures, the notion that support for Second Amendment rights has waned is simply untrue.

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It seems a lot longer ago than just eight months. Back on January 16 of this year, President Obama sounded what was intended to be the keynote of his second term by saying that he intended to introduce a raft of legislative proposals intended to tighten controls of gun ownership. With the memory of the slaughter of little children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mad lone gunman fresh in the minds of the new Congress, some believed he would succeed in not only getting gun-control bills passed but also in routing the National Rifle Association in such a manner as to break their hold on Washington power forever. With new anti-gun groups led by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords spending big bucks to promote the issue, the NRA’s days were supposed to be numbered. But in the intervening months, the groundswell of passion on behalf of background-checks laws and other measures turned out to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination of the liberal mainstream media that relentlessly backed Obama’s play on guns.

Any lingering doubt that the gun-control moment has passed was removed last night when two Democratic state senators in Colorado were removed from office by a recall vote because of their support for new gun legislation. Despite benefiting from the infusion of more than $3 million in outside contributions from anti-gun groups, including $300,000 from Bloomberg, the pair—State Senate President John Morse and Angela Giron—was beaten by Republicans in the recall vote. What’s more, though the two Democrats were the focus of fierce opposition by the NRA, as I noted when I first wrote about these races back in July, the Democrats had a clear financial advantage in the race. The guns-rights lobby’s only advantage was in being able to mobilize a grass-roots movement.

Liberals are attempting to spin their defeat as the result of local politics and resentment about the interference of New York’s champion of nanny-state regulations in Colorado. But they’re fooling no one. Like the battle to get the U.S. Senate to pass even a watered-down version of a background checks proposal, the recall vote was a test of will between the NRA and the anti-gun movement and the former won hands down. Though terrible events like Newtown shock the nation and polls show majorities back some regulatory measures, the notion that support for Second Amendment rights has waned is simply untrue.

While the power shift in the Colorado legislature isn’t enough to force a repeal of the bills Morse helped force down the legislature’s throat last winter, the symbolic value of the defeat suffered by anti-gun groups will resonate throughout the country.

That’s something liberals, especially those in the media who embraced this issue wholeheartedly last winter, are finding it hard to accept. Though the president has since moved onto other disasters—a spring of scandals and the Syria debacle—his failure on gun legislation represents a fundamental misreading of America’s political culture on the part of most liberals. They assumed that grief over Newtown had changed public opinion about guns. That perception was reinforced by the NRA’s initial ham-handed response to the incident and the newly reelected president’s decision to ruthlessly exploit Sandy Hook and the families of the victims in order to pressure Congress to give him what he wanted.

But no matter how often he waved the bloody shirt of Newtown in order to shame members of the House and Senate into passing laws that would have done nothing to avert that massacre, there was no real appetite in either chamber for his proposals.

While the NRA took its lumps in the months after Newtown, the group actually experienced a surge in membership and support that more than compensated for the drubbing they got in the mainstream press. Though liberals, including the president, falsely asserted that NRA support was merely the function of donations from gun manufacturers, it remained something that the anti-gun groups were not: a genuine grass-roots organization that could generate intense activity from its members when they were called upon.

That’s why the Colorado votes were so important. They showed that even when outgunned by outside money, gun-rights advocates have an ace in the hole that Bloomberg can’t match: passionate supporters on the ground who can turn out and vote.

I doubt we’ve heard the last of Obama and his liberal supporters on this issue. They will return to it, as they always do, anytime a crime that can generate unthinking outrage about guns is committed. But media hype is never a match for a public determined not be stripped of their constitutional rights. The anti-gun tide that was supposed to sweep away the NRA has instead swept away two Democrats. Don’t bet that they will be the last to lose their seats because they believed Obama when he said the NRA was whipped.

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The Difference Between Newtown and Boston

One crime was committed by a person motivated by no cause or political interest and driven only by personal demons. Another crime was committed by two people whose actions were clearly driven by their religious and political beliefs. Under these circumstances, which of these terrible tragedies do you think would be considered an incident that could only be properly understood as something that ought to spur the nation to specific political actions?

If you answered the latter, you clearly know nothing about our political culture.

The former is, of course, the Newtown massacre in which a crazed, lone gunman murdered 20 1st-graders and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school. The latter is the Boston Marathon bombing that took the lives of three spectators and wounded nearly 200, to which the toll of one police officer murdered and another wounded during the manhunt for the terrorists must be added. Though the first was a random act of personal madness and the second was just the latest in a long string of terrorist acts motivated by Islamist hatred for the West and America, there has never been any doubt about which of the two our chattering classes would consider as having undeniable political consequences and which would be treated as an unknowable crime about which intelligent persons ought not to think too deeply.

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One crime was committed by a person motivated by no cause or political interest and driven only by personal demons. Another crime was committed by two people whose actions were clearly driven by their religious and political beliefs. Under these circumstances, which of these terrible tragedies do you think would be considered an incident that could only be properly understood as something that ought to spur the nation to specific political actions?

If you answered the latter, you clearly know nothing about our political culture.

The former is, of course, the Newtown massacre in which a crazed, lone gunman murdered 20 1st-graders and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school. The latter is the Boston Marathon bombing that took the lives of three spectators and wounded nearly 200, to which the toll of one police officer murdered and another wounded during the manhunt for the terrorists must be added. Though the first was a random act of personal madness and the second was just the latest in a long string of terrorist acts motivated by Islamist hatred for the West and America, there has never been any doubt about which of the two our chattering classes would consider as having undeniable political consequences and which would be treated as an unknowable crime about which intelligent persons ought not to think too deeply.

We can debate the rights and wrongs of restrictions on gun ownership or calls for more background checks. But the desire to use public grief about Newtown to push for passage of these measures was not rooted in any direct connection between the crime and legislation. Yet almost immediately Newtown was treated as an event with obvious political consequences. Indeed, the desire by gun rights advocates to speak of the issue outside of the context of Newtown was treated as both inherently illegitimate and morally obtuse.

But the reaction to Boston has been very different. Once it became apparent that the perpetrators were “white Americans”—in the memorable phrase employed by Salon.com—but could not be connected to the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh or any other conservative faction or cause, most liberals have taken it as their duty to squelch any effort to draw the sort of conclusions to which they had almost universally rushed when blood was shed in Newtown. Many in our chattering classes who thought it was patently obvious that the actions of a lunatic should be blamed on the weapons he employed in Connecticut seem deathly afraid of what will happen if we discuss the actual motives of the Boston terrorists.

Why?

Because while they consider anything fair game if it can help restrict gun ownership, they are just as eager to avoid any conclusion that might cause Americans to link terrorists with the religious ideology that led them to kill. For them the fear that this will lead to a general wave of prejudice against all Muslims justifies treating a crime that can only be properly understood in the context of the general struggle against radical Islam as if it were as motiveless as Newtown.

In the last week we have been offered all sorts of explanation for the behavior of the Tsarnaev brothers except the obvious answer. Talking heads on MSNBC and elsewhere have condemned any effort to focus on political Islam in spite of the growing body of evidence that points to their faith as being the cause of their decision to commit mayhem. Even a normally sober commentator such as the New York Times’s Frank Bruni sought to downplay the religious angle, preferring to diffuse our outrage as well as our comprehension of the event and the many other attacks carried out by adherents of radical Islam:

Terrorism isn’t a scourge we Americans alone endure, and it’s seldom about any one thing, or any two things.

Our insistence on patterns and commonalities and some kind of understanding assumes coherence to the massacres, rationality. But the difference between the aimless, alienated young men who do not plant bombs or open fire on unsuspecting crowds — which is the vast majority of them — and those who do is less likely to be some discrete radicalization process that we can diagram and eradicate than a dose, sometimes a heavy one, of pure madness. And there’s no easy antidote to that. No amulet against it.

Bruni is right that there’s no magic bullet or counter-terrorist tactic that will ensure terrorists won’t succeed. He’s also right to shoot down, as he rightly does, those on the far left who have sought to “connect the dots” between American foreign policy (Iraq, Afghanistan and support for Israel) and treat them as justified blowback in which Americans are reaping what they have sown. But while such reactions are despicable, they are largely confined to the fever swamps of our national life.

Far more destructive is this mystifying impulse to look away from the war Islamists have been waging on the West for a generation. While the “radicalization process” to which he refers is not uniform, there is a clear pattern here. The roots of the atrocity in Boston are in the beliefs of radical imams who have helped guide young Muslims to violence around the globe.

To point this out is not an indictment of all Muslims, the majority of whom in this country are loyal, hardworking and peaceful citizens. But the myths about a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims that the media has helped foster—and which continue to be unconnected to any actual evidence of a wave of a prejudice or violence—has led to a situation where some think it better to ignore the evidence about the Tsarnaevs or to focus on peripheral details—such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s failed boxing career—than to address the real problem. The fear of Islamophobia is so great that it has spawned a different kind of backlash in which any mention of Islam in this context is wrongly treated as an indication of prejudice.

The contrast between the political exploitation of Newtown and the way in which the same media outlets have gone out of their way to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions about Boston could not be greater. In one case, the media helped orchestrate a national discussion in which hyper-emotional rhetoric about the fallen drove a political agenda. In the other, they are seeking to ensure that no conclusions—even those that are self-evident—be drawn under any circumstances.

Gun control advocates claim that new laws—even those seemingly unconnected to the circumstances of Newtown—are worth it if it will save even one life. That’s debatable, but the same venues that have promoted that view seem averse to any discussion of political Islam, even though it is obvious that more intelligence efforts aimed at routing out radical Islamists and scrutiny of venues and websites where they gather might save even more lives. In the universe of the liberal media, promoting fear of future Newtowns is legitimate and even necessary, but thinking about how to stop future terror attacks apparently is not if it leads us to think about the Islamist threat.

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The Real Reason Gun Control Failed

Ever since the failure of the gun-control bill, President Obama’s supporters have been wondering how it is that the president could ask for something and not get it. Obama himself seemed fairly surprised by this, if his bizarre and uncomfortable statement after the vote was any indication. He lashed out at the senators who opposed the bill, but those senators were motivated by electoral concerns, which means they were nervous to cross the voters they are supposed to represent, which means the president was really lashing out at the public.

And of course the president fully understood the position of those lawmakers he was demonizing as accomplices to child endangerment. After all, the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut was not the first mass shooting of his presidency; there was one in his first term as well, but the president chose not to muster and release his righteous indignation when he still had to worry about his own re-election. And now he looked at dozens of lawmakers who acted exactly as he did and called them cowards. But today’s New York Times story on the failure of the gun bill has managed to find easily the most ludicrous explanation yet:

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Ever since the failure of the gun-control bill, President Obama’s supporters have been wondering how it is that the president could ask for something and not get it. Obama himself seemed fairly surprised by this, if his bizarre and uncomfortable statement after the vote was any indication. He lashed out at the senators who opposed the bill, but those senators were motivated by electoral concerns, which means they were nervous to cross the voters they are supposed to represent, which means the president was really lashing out at the public.

And of course the president fully understood the position of those lawmakers he was demonizing as accomplices to child endangerment. After all, the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut was not the first mass shooting of his presidency; there was one in his first term as well, but the president chose not to muster and release his righteous indignation when he still had to worry about his own re-election. And now he looked at dozens of lawmakers who acted exactly as he did and called them cowards. But today’s New York Times story on the failure of the gun bill has managed to find easily the most ludicrous explanation yet:

Robert Dallek, a historian and biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mr. Obama seems “inclined to believe that sweet reason is what you need to use with people in high office.” That contrasts with Johnson’s belief that “what you need to do is to back people up against a wall,” Mr. Dallek said.

“Obama has this more reasoned temperament,” he said. “It may well be that it’s not the prescription for making gains. It raises questions about his powers of persuasion.”

I doubt President Obama was much comforted upon reading that, because he is surely aware that “sweet reason” was the one tool he forgot to employ in his constant demagoguery on gun control. His campaign did not include arguments that the proposals would have prevented the Newtown tragedy, because they would not have. He mostly spent weeks calling people names, interspersed with especially low moments such as when he said this: “What’s more important to you: our children, or an A-grade from the gun lobby?”

Those are the only two choices in the world Obama inhabits. And it is a world devoid of “sweet reason.” Yet it should not be a surprise that Obama’s reaction to the failure of the gun bill was to show contempt for the people; as Kevin Williamson wrote in January, the administration’s obsession with theater over substance is about more than his political agenda:

You may agree 100 percent with the president’s position on gun control, but his stagey histrionics, his endless reliance upon human props, his cheap sloganeering, his emotionally driven hectoring: all of that bespeaks a very deep contempt for his audience, which is the American people. If he really believes that surrounding himself with adorable little tots is a substitute for substantive arguments for well-thought-out policy proposals, he thinks that the people — you people — are a bunch of rubes. Unhappily, 51 percent of the American people are happy to endorse his low view of them. There is something peculiar to political enthusiasts, a phenomenon I observed at both conventions this year: People in political audiences know that they are being manipulated, cynically and professionally — and they enjoy it. Obama’s admirers look up to him because he looks down on them, not in spite of the fact. There is something more at play than the mere admiration of stagecraft.

There sure is. The Times article follows a common theme in Obama’s press coverage: that he really deserves better than the people of this republic. And Obama’s admirers who, as Williamson writes, “look up to him because he looks down on them,” do so because they couldn’t agree more. Liberals look at the federal republic whose checks and balances keep standing in the way of our noble hero-president and wonder why Obama even puts up with us.

The anger at the senators who voted against the gun bill contains the perfect example: Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota. After she provided a crucial vote against the gun bill, Obama’s own former chief of staff, Bill Daley, took to the pages of the Washington Post to make a remarkable demand. In October, he donated to Heitkamp’s Senate campaign, and then she won–and voted against the gun bill. Daley’s op-ed actually opened with the following sentence: “I want my money back.”

Truly amazing. Heitkamp turned out to have far more integrity than Daley imagined when he mailed his check. But that’s the real story of the collapse of the gun bill. After the votes were counted, Politico published a reaction story which contained the following nugget:

“Bribery isn’t what it once was,” said an official with one of the major gun-control groups. “The government has no money. Once upon a time you would throw somebody a post office or a research facility in times like this. Frankly, there’s not a lot of leverage.”

This has much in common, in fact, with how the administration successfully got ObamaCare through Congress. But that was three years ago. It was the president’s first term. Times change. Bribery isn’t what it once was.

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The Age of Hope and Shame

What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

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What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

Liberals don’t have an exclusive claim on either child welfare or common sense. And they’re not the only ones who can point to horrifying realities and place blame on policies they don’t like. Take the conservative cause of shrinking the welfare state. It may not lend itself to the easy emotional shorthand of anti-gun legislation, but that’s because few are paying attention. Amid last week’s multiple nightmares, one could have missed a New York Times story headlined “More Children in Greece Are Going Hungry.” Published the same day Obama made his “shame” speech, the report by Liz Alderman describes Greek “children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.” This is the latest byproduct of the Greek disaster. The Times quotes Dr. Athena Linos, who heads a food-assistance NGO, as saying: “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries.” Talk about shame.

The Greek collapse is a direct consequence of the unbridled welfare state. The country was brought down by nationalized healthcare, exorbitant pensions, early retirements, a massive public sector, and all the other mathematical impossibilities that progressives mistake for virtue. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s famous line, the Greeks ran out of other people’s money. The danger of the welfare state isn’t theoretical, and there’s a new generation of hungry Greek children to prove it.

Does that mean that those Americans who’ve been calling for the United States to follow the European social model don’t care about hungry children? No, they’re not monsters. Rather, they don’t see the connection between what they advocate and what’s unfolding—between what they think of as “welfare” and what’s actually its opposite. It would be unseemly and offensive, therefore, for leading conservatives to denounce big-spending liberals as shamefully indifferent to child suffering.   

Liberals, on the other hand, must shame their conservative opponents because emotion is nine-tenths of the liberal law, as post-Sandy Hook discussion shows. On the left, intentions dominate. Failed liberal policy could never be justified by a sober consideration of facts.

After the Boston terrorist attack progressives like Salon’s David Sirota “hoped” that the suspect would be a white American. Such musings put liberals on the high road of good intentions. No Islamists meant no “shameful” war against Islamists. But objective facts (outcome) shattered these hopes.

The Obama years are the years of hope and shame. That’s what’s left once you’ve hollowed out the space traditionally occupied by informed debate. Liberals, led by the president, merely hope that gun laws and background checks will stem gun violence. There’s no debating the merits. So when people disagree, it can only be attributed to shameful intentions, not thoughtful misgivings about effectiveness. Liberals hope that expanding the welfare state will do more good for more people. The facts of Europe don’t apply. So when conservatives disagree it’s because they’re shamefully indifferent to human suffering, not concerned about an unsustainable initiative. Obama hopes we’re no longer in a war on terror but engaged in a cleaner-sounding war on al-Qaeda. If you think a recent string of terrorism attempts in America demonstrates otherwise, shame on you. Without self-righteousness liberals have no case.

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Obama’s Lear-Like Rage

In a Rose Garden statement in the aftermath of his failure to persuade the Senate to move on any of his gun control proposals, the president raged, Lear-like, against his opponents. It was a rather unpleasant mix–one part petulance and two parts anger.

In the course of his outburst, the president said this:

I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  “A prop,” somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. 

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In a Rose Garden statement in the aftermath of his failure to persuade the Senate to move on any of his gun control proposals, the president raged, Lear-like, against his opponents. It was a rather unpleasant mix–one part petulance and two parts anger.

In the course of his outburst, the president said this:

I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  “A prop,” somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. 

The unidentified “outlet” who used the phrase “emotional blackmail” was Charles Krauthammer, who on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier said this about the background checks:

The question is: Would it have had any effect on Newtown? If you’re going to make all of these emotional appeals — you’re saying you’re betraying the families — you’ve got to show how if this had been law it would’ve stopped Newtown. It would not have. It’s irrelevant. 
I wouldn’t have objected, I might’ve gone the way of McCain or Toomey on this, but it’s a kind of emotional blackmail as a way of saying, “You have to do it for the children.” Not if there’s no logic in this. And that I think is what’s wrong with the demagoguery that we heard out of the president on this issue.

Krauthammer is once again right and the president is once again wrong. (At some point the president and his White House will discover that it’s not in their interest to get into a debate with Krauthammer. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer can explain why.)

What Mr. Obama has been attempting to do throughout this gun control debate is to build his case based on a false premise, which is that the laws he’s proposing would have stopped the mass killing in Newtown. The families of the Newtown massacre are being used by the president in an effort to frame the issue this way: If you’re with Obama, you’re on the side of saving innocent children from mass killings–and if you’re against Obama, you have the blood of the children of Newtown on your hands. But it actually does matter if what Obama is proposing would have made any difference when it came to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And the fact that it would not have is what makes Obama’s gambit so shameful and disturbing. (I say that as someone who is somewhat sympathetic to the expanded background checks.) 

Mr. Obama’s effort at emotional blackmail has failed, and in bitterly lashing out at those who called him out on his demagoguery, he went some distance toward confirming that he is, in fact, a demagogue. 

Three months into his second term, Mr. Obama is becoming an increasingly bitter and powerless figure. When a man who views himself as a world-historic figure and our Moral Superior commands things to happen and they don’t, it isn’t a pretty sight. See yesterday’s Rose Garden statement for more. 

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Will Grief and Rage on Guns Help Dems?

At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

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At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

For all the talk being heard today about the anger of the American people about their will being thwarted by the nefarious maneuverings of the NRA, the news landscape the day after the defeat of the gun bill illustrates the problem with assuming that one issue can dominate the public consciousness. As much as the president and his media cheerleaders would like to assume that a Newtown victims-fueled fury can transform American politics, less than 24 hours later the gun issue is competing with other stories that are more compelling, such as the Boston terror attack and the massive deaths and damage that resulted from the fertilizer factory explosion in Texas. As much as many Americans are still deeply moved by Newtown and most think Manchin-Toomey made sense, the lines on gun issues are still largely drawn on regional and ideological lines that have not budged much in the past few months.

As Josh Kraushaar points out in the National Journal today, the electoral math in 2014 favors gun rights advocates, not President Obama and his allies. With so many Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states where guns remain popular, it’s hard to see how liberals will be able to harness the emotions of Newtown to elect people who will change the numbers on such issues. The fact that the amendment to the bill proposed by Texas Senator John Cornyn about states respecting each other’s concealed carry permits won more bipartisan support than Manchin-Toomey–although it, too, failed–is telling.

Red state Democrats, including the four who opposed Manchin-Toomey, may face primary challenges from the left. But the prospects of those senators being replaced by pro-gun control liberals are virtually non-existent, no matter how much money Bloomberg pours into those races. Nor is it likely that Republicans in the south or west are spending too much time worrying about Democrats beating them by waving the bloody shirt of Newtown.

But Republicans should not be too sanguine about the political landscape next year. They have been underestimating Obama’s appeal for years and next year may be no exception. What the president may be able to do next year in a campaign that will in part be aided by gun-violence victims’ families is to help increase turnout among the Democratic base that might change races in some states and hurt the GOP’s chances of winning back the Senate while holding onto the House.

The right is right to point out that many of the arguments being used by the president on guns are specious. The idea that al-Qaeda terrorists will be enabled to buy guns without background checks is pure baloney. And the premise that the Newtown victim families have the standing to impose their views on guns on the country even if the measures they support would not have made a difference in stopping the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is also unfair.

However, conservatives would do well to get used to seeing those families, as they will be a constant presence on the campaign trail in the next two years. Any assumption that they will not help the president make political hay with his orchestrated rage may prove premature.

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Should Grief Impel Policy? Only Sometimes.

The public reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings appears, at least so far, to be exemplary. The shock over the crime and the sadness about the victims has been great, but it has not prevented the country from going about its business a day later. While we can expect heightened security measures wherever people gather in the coming days the country is, as it should be, carrying on and refusing to succumb to panic. There is great and understandable frustration about the lack of knowledge about the perpetrators and their motives, but at least for the moment that is not entirely a bad thing. The lack of information about the identity of the bombers or their motives is acting as a check on the impulse to jump to conclusions about the event. In the absence of a villain or a root cause, the Boston bombing is just a tragedy and not a political tool.

Yet as much as this gives us some space to think about Boston without the need to employ it in the service of some predictable meme, it should not obscure the difference between drawing reasonable conclusions from events and exploiting them. The contrast between Boston and the most recent national trauma in Newtown is not only in terms of the scale of the crime but in the way much of mainstream opinion makers are asking us to think about it.

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The public reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings appears, at least so far, to be exemplary. The shock over the crime and the sadness about the victims has been great, but it has not prevented the country from going about its business a day later. While we can expect heightened security measures wherever people gather in the coming days the country is, as it should be, carrying on and refusing to succumb to panic. There is great and understandable frustration about the lack of knowledge about the perpetrators and their motives, but at least for the moment that is not entirely a bad thing. The lack of information about the identity of the bombers or their motives is acting as a check on the impulse to jump to conclusions about the event. In the absence of a villain or a root cause, the Boston bombing is just a tragedy and not a political tool.

Yet as much as this gives us some space to think about Boston without the need to employ it in the service of some predictable meme, it should not obscure the difference between drawing reasonable conclusions from events and exploiting them. The contrast between Boston and the most recent national trauma in Newtown is not only in terms of the scale of the crime but in the way much of mainstream opinion makers are asking us to think about it.

It is true that that our current ignorance about the bombers prevents observers from using it to discuss a particular threat, be it radical right-wingers or Islamists. But once we do know the answers to our questions, there should be no reticence about conducting a public discussion about how best to deal with the source of the terror. That’s why those who are speaking about the need to avoid using Boston to rally concern about terrorism the way 9/11 focused the nation’s attention on the threat from al-Qaeda are wrong.

As much as some seem to desire to put us back in a 9/10/01 mentality about terrorism, the sense of urgency that followed 9/11/01 was not the product of George W. Bush’s fear mongering but a reasonable response to an atrocious attack on the United States. While not everything that followed in terms of U.S. policy turned out to be a brilliant success, there was nothing artificial or the product of deception about the need for America to start fighting back against the Islamist war on the West.

While the Boston attack is, thank God, not on the same scale as the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, the people who did this must also be tracked down and rooted out of their holes, be they somewhere in this country or, as in the case of al-Qaeda, on the other side of the earth. It is neither alarmist nor exploitive to say that if some group is behind this atrocity all its members and sympathizers must be considered dangerous enemies against whom the full force of American power must be used. There is, after all, a difference between a rational response to a specific threat and the desire to exploit a crime to promote a political response to an event that is not directly related to the crime in question.

This is instructive since so many of the people who are so insistent that Boston should not lead to a disproportionate government response to terrorism are often the same ones who have been asking to use Newtown as an excuse to enact far-reaching gun legislation.

Ever since the terrible events of December 14 when a madman murdered 20 children and six teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, there has been a constant refrain in the national press for Americans not to let go of their grief. There is widespread disgust about the notion that Americans have started to think dispassionately about the crime rather than be impelled by their horror into agreeing with whatever gun restrictions the president has urged the nation to adopt, even if they would not prevent another such crime. After Newtown, the very idea of the country keeping calm about guns in the way they are now being asked to lower their temperature about terrorists–no matter who they might be–is anathema. In that case, grief and fear are considered appropriate drivers of policy by liberals while terrorism may not be.

Those seeking explanations for why the president’s gun agenda has run into a ditch only months after Newtown should contemplate how fragile a political tool fear and emotion can be. If the post-9/11 concerns about terror persisted for years after that event it was because, in spite of mistakes the government may have made, the fears that event whipped up were not out of proportion to the event that generated them. If other events are not capable of sustaining political agendas, it may be because the connection between these crimes and the suggested policy response is not as strong as some might wish it to be.

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The Newtown Families and Democracy

President Obama played his strongest card this weekend in the ongoing struggle over gun control legislation when he had one of the parents of the victims of the Newtown massacre deliver his weekly radio address. Francine Wheeler, the mother of one of the 1st-graders murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December delivered an impassioned plea for Americans to join in support of what she and the White House termed the president’s “common sense” proposals. The speech was both eloquent and deeply moving and, like the effects of some of the lobbying visits to members of the House and the Senate by the Newtown parents, obviously effective.

Suffice it to say that so long as the debate about guns is restricted to one between Ms. Wheeler and, say, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, gun rights advocates haven’t got much of a chance. There is no arguing with grief, especially when it is attached to rather amorphous rhetoric about the issue that simply implores Congress to “do something” about guns.

This is a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of those who are seeking to oppose the president or even the bipartisan compromise proposal put forward by pro-gun senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, but there is no use complaining about it. The Newtown parents have a right to speak out on this issue and you can’t blame the media for giving them outsized coverage. But those who believe they can count on this factor cowing the NRA or even more moderate opponents of infringements on the Second Amendment into submission should not overestimate the impact that the pure emotion generated by the relatives of the victims will have in the long run. Such passion is powerful but it is not a substitute for reason. Nor can it be sustained indefinitely. That is why people like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is puffed in a column this weekend by the New York Times‘s Maureen Dowd saying his goal is to “disenfranchise the N.R.A.,” are not going to succeed.

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President Obama played his strongest card this weekend in the ongoing struggle over gun control legislation when he had one of the parents of the victims of the Newtown massacre deliver his weekly radio address. Francine Wheeler, the mother of one of the 1st-graders murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December delivered an impassioned plea for Americans to join in support of what she and the White House termed the president’s “common sense” proposals. The speech was both eloquent and deeply moving and, like the effects of some of the lobbying visits to members of the House and the Senate by the Newtown parents, obviously effective.

Suffice it to say that so long as the debate about guns is restricted to one between Ms. Wheeler and, say, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, gun rights advocates haven’t got much of a chance. There is no arguing with grief, especially when it is attached to rather amorphous rhetoric about the issue that simply implores Congress to “do something” about guns.

This is a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of those who are seeking to oppose the president or even the bipartisan compromise proposal put forward by pro-gun senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, but there is no use complaining about it. The Newtown parents have a right to speak out on this issue and you can’t blame the media for giving them outsized coverage. But those who believe they can count on this factor cowing the NRA or even more moderate opponents of infringements on the Second Amendment into submission should not overestimate the impact that the pure emotion generated by the relatives of the victims will have in the long run. Such passion is powerful but it is not a substitute for reason. Nor can it be sustained indefinitely. That is why people like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is puffed in a column this weekend by the New York Times‘s Maureen Dowd saying his goal is to “disenfranchise the N.R.A.,” are not going to succeed.

Sympathy is a powerful motivating factor in any political discussion and the value of the Newtown victims to the anti-gun forces is that it puts their arguments in a context that cannot be directly refuted. The families of the victims, like the survivors of any horrific event, are, by definition, above reproach and must be heard in respectful silence rather than be subjected to the usual and appropriate back and forth that is par for the course for those speaking on any contentious issue. The fact that they have generally couched their statements in a general manner rather than honing in on specifics and avoided lashing out in rage against groups that oppose gun control has only enhanced their appeal.

The piece by the Times‘s queen of snark will be seized on by opponents of the Manchin-Toomey compromise as one more proof that what is at stake here is not just provisions like background checks at gun shows that can truly be characterized as “common sense” measures but just the first step toward a push toward infringing if not effectively annulling the Second Amendment. Murphy, whom Dowd tells us does not even allow his young children to play with toy guns, is not helping liberals persuade Americans that their long-term goal is not widespread restrictions on legal gun ownership.

This illustrates the left’s problem on guns. It can only succeed in advancing their agenda on guns so long as the bloody shirt of Newtown is being waved. When the tears subside and we catch our collective breath, allowing us to look clearly at what the president has proposed, what more and more Americans are seeing is that proposals about so-called assault weapons and ammunition magazines would do little or nothing to lower the volume of gun violence, let alone avoid another Newtown.

The point about the exploitation of the families of the victims in the gun debate is not that there is anything wrong about their statements, even if they were to inject themselves in an even more direct manner in the controversy. Rather, it is that ours is a system of laws not individuals or sentiment. The checks and balances inherent in the system serve to slow down the pace of legislation, which is something that, as Dowd writes, frustrates the Newtown families. But the genius of our constitutional system is that it is designed specifically to mute the voice of the crowd, especially when it is driven by by emotion such as that which liberals and the Newtown families are seeking to harness.

Public opinion is variable, but the Constitution is strong enough to survive even against the assault of liberal ideologues even when sympathetic victims back them. American democracy gives a fair hearing to those who feel their own experiences in tragedies enables them to speak with authority on the issues. But such feelings, no matter how rooted in tragedy or how much pity they compel across the board from their fellow citizens, cannot transform a weak argument about the law into a strong one. 

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Will Liberals Torpedo the Background Check Compromise?

Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

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Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

As to the nature of the Manchin-Toomey proposal, their agreement to expand background checks to gun shows is bound to strike everyone but the leadership of the National Rifle Association as fairly reasonable. It’s not just that polls show overwhelming support for the idea. If you think existing background checks on the purchasers of firearms in gun stores are a sensible precaution, then having them cover sales at gun shows is only logical. As long as this exempts sales or exchanges of guns between family members, it’s hard to argue that such a measure would be too burdensome or be an infringement of Second Amendment rights.

Can such a measure pass Congress? That’s far from clear. Assuming that the liberals who run the Senate have the sense to embrace the Manchin-Toomey amendment, it should get through the upper body. Having a solid conservative like Toomey be the sponsor will help persuade some in the House GOP caucus to put aside their fears about any gun bill. If even a sizeable minority of House Republicans embrace it, that should be enough to allow its passage with solid Democratic support.

But that will hinge on the answer to the third question.

Some on the right are echoing the NRA in opposing any bill that will mean more record keeping about gun ownership, even if it is aimed at preventing criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. They do so not because they want such persons to get guns, but because they think any registry of weapons or gun ownership is the first step toward a government ban of all weapons–notwithstanding the incessant disclaimers from President Obama and other liberals about their support for the Second Amendment and their promises about not taking away anyone’s guns.

Those fears may sometimes be expressed in a manner that sounds unreasonable, but anyone who has been listening to liberals talk about guns for the last few decades understands that banning guns is exactly what many if not most of them really would like to do if they could. The fact that almost all of the gun proposals put forward by the administration in the wake of the Newtown massacre would have done nothing to prevent that tragedy only feeds the suspicion that it has been exploited to advance a left-wing agenda that will trash gun rights.

The Manchin-Toomey compromise is good politics for both parties, in that it will allow President Obama to tell his base that he achieved something on guns while giving Republicans the opportunity to pass a bill that could take a liberal talking point out of circulation without actually infringing on the Second Amendment. But if liberals trumpet background checks as the beginning of a new struggle to ban guns rather than an end in itself, it will be extremely difficult to persuade more House Republicans to support it. It remains to be seen whether the left will allow Manchin and Toomey to allay the fears of the right or will instead torpedo it in order to keep waving the bloody shirt of Newtown in 2014.

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Bashing Hollywood Won’t Stop More Newtowns Either

Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is right when she notes in her Wall Street Journal op-ed today that President Obama’s focus on new gun laws to the exclusion of concerns about violence in movies, television and video games is both hypocritical and partisan. In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, the administration paid some lip service to the obvious fact that the crime might be traced back to questions about mental illness or the influence of violent entertainment. But once that was over with, the sole focus of the president and his allies has been on demonizing the National Rifle Association and trying to use the incident as an excuse to advance, even if only incrementally, the traditional liberal gun control agenda. The result is what she correctly labels a “stale debate,” since having a Democrat target the NRA is as predicable as a Republican bashing Hollywood and requires no more courage.

What Brown wants is for Obama to man up and face down an industry that is a major source of funding for his and other Democrats’ campaigns by telling Hollywood and the video game makers to start policing themselves before the government finds a way to do it for them. She points out that there is a consensus among social scientists that media violence has an impact on children and puts forward a list of suggestions, including restrictions on the amount of violence that children can see on television. But while as a parent I share her concerns about violent images, my reaction to her ideas isn’t much different from the one I felt last December when I heard NRA chief Wayne LaPierre attempt to deflect attention away from guns and onto video games after Newtown: throwing the First Amendment under the bus in a vain effort to save the Second isn’t going to do the Constitution or the country much good.

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Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is right when she notes in her Wall Street Journal op-ed today that President Obama’s focus on new gun laws to the exclusion of concerns about violence in movies, television and video games is both hypocritical and partisan. In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, the administration paid some lip service to the obvious fact that the crime might be traced back to questions about mental illness or the influence of violent entertainment. But once that was over with, the sole focus of the president and his allies has been on demonizing the National Rifle Association and trying to use the incident as an excuse to advance, even if only incrementally, the traditional liberal gun control agenda. The result is what she correctly labels a “stale debate,” since having a Democrat target the NRA is as predicable as a Republican bashing Hollywood and requires no more courage.

What Brown wants is for Obama to man up and face down an industry that is a major source of funding for his and other Democrats’ campaigns by telling Hollywood and the video game makers to start policing themselves before the government finds a way to do it for them. She points out that there is a consensus among social scientists that media violence has an impact on children and puts forward a list of suggestions, including restrictions on the amount of violence that children can see on television. But while as a parent I share her concerns about violent images, my reaction to her ideas isn’t much different from the one I felt last December when I heard NRA chief Wayne LaPierre attempt to deflect attention away from guns and onto video games after Newtown: throwing the First Amendment under the bus in a vain effort to save the Second isn’t going to do the Constitution or the country much good.

Let’s specify that Brown is right that Obama is uniquely positioned as a liberal icon to use his bully pulpit to campaign against violent entertainment. But the man whose wife presented the Best Film award at this year’s Oscars has no interest in echoing Tipper Gore or Joe Lieberman when it comes to scolding the makers of films, TV shows or video games about the numbing effect of the fake violence they profit from. If he or his glamorous wife wanted to take up this cause they might have the leverage to have some impact on the products marketed to impressionable audiences. That they prefer instead to grandstand about guns and to engage in emotional arguments about murdered children that are generally bereft of any proof that the measures would actually lower the amount of gun violence or prevent another Newtown illustrates their lack of seriousness about the subject. For all of the talk about Congress lacking the courage to stand up to the NRA, the White House’s toadying to Hollywood is every bit as, if not far more, pusillanimous.

But, like some of the president’s gun control suggestions, the fact that Brown’s suggestions about entertainment sound reasonable doesn’t make up for the fact that they lack a tangible connection to Newtown.

It is true that the Newtown murderer appears to have been as obsessed with violent video games as much as with guns. But like past disputes about the level of violence in movies and television, which were blamed for the crimes committed by outliers in past generations, to jump to the conclusion that video games make Adam Lanza kill 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut is no more responsible than blaming the act of an insane person on the legal weapon that he committed the crime with.

The point here is that for Brown and others to use Newtown as an excuse to revive concerns about violence in entertainment is no different from the cynical manner with which gun control advocates have waved the bloody shirt of the massacre to resurrect their own pet schemes to ban assault weapons or otherwise restrict ownership of firearms.

I happen to sympathize greatly with Brown’s concerns. Like virtually everyone else who pays for cable I love her proposal about stopping cable companies from bundling channels to make consumers pay for those that they have little interest in. I, for one, would be quite happy if I could be allowed to only purchase those that broadcast news and sports and let others pay for the ones that show the vast array of trashy reality shows that are a staple of basic cable which we are all obligated to buy.

More importantly, the country would be far better off and our culture less coarse if there were less violence on television and in the movies. But the responsibility for stopping our children from seeing those shows and movies or playing those games belongs to parents, not the government. And the studies Brown cites notwithstanding, I’m not convinced there is any reason to believe that Lanza killed innocents because of video games any more than I am that it happened because the popular weapon he employed to commit his crime was legal.

I have no more problems with public advocacy for less violent entertainment than I do with background checks on gun purchases. But I doubt that either will prevent another insane person from thinking about committing an atrocity or obtaining the means to carry it out if they are determined to do so.

Flawed as it is, making Hollywood the scapegoat for Newtown makes as little sense as doing the same for the equally unpopular leadership of the NRA. Conservatives should be as protective of the First Amendment rights of the former to produce objectionable material as they are of the Second Amendment rights of the members of the latter.

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Obama’s Appeal to Emotion Versus Reason

President Obama renewed his push for more restrictive gun control legislation today with an emotional appeal in which he said the nation ought to be ashamed of the waning interest in his proposals:

“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different,” Mr. Obama said, his voice rising with indignation. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”

The president is being pressured by members of his liberal base who are blaming him not only for the fact that most of his ideas have no chance of being passed by Congress but also for the drop in public support for his plans since the initial surge for more gun control after the Newtown massacre in December. That was made apparent by a new CBS News poll that shows sympathy for stricter gun laws is down by 10 percent since the tragic shooting of 20 children and six teachers. The survey now shows the percentage of Americans who want more gun legislation to have fallen below the 50 percent mark to only 47 percent, while the number of those who believe the laws should stay as they are has risen to 39 percent from 30 percent three months ago.

Gun control advocates lament this change and say, as the president did today, that it is a function of forgetfulness. That’s why, as Seth wrote earlier, the Michael Bloomberg-funded campaign to promote the issue is seeking to rekindle outrage over Sandy Hook with emotion-laden commercials depicting the parents of the victims. But the problem here is not a lack of concern for the memory of the slain or callousness on the part of growing numbers of Americans. It is the fact that the case for the president’s proposals relies primarily on just this sort of emotion rather than reason. The longer we have to think about it, the less sense these restrictions make to people.

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President Obama renewed his push for more restrictive gun control legislation today with an emotional appeal in which he said the nation ought to be ashamed of the waning interest in his proposals:

“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different,” Mr. Obama said, his voice rising with indignation. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”

The president is being pressured by members of his liberal base who are blaming him not only for the fact that most of his ideas have no chance of being passed by Congress but also for the drop in public support for his plans since the initial surge for more gun control after the Newtown massacre in December. That was made apparent by a new CBS News poll that shows sympathy for stricter gun laws is down by 10 percent since the tragic shooting of 20 children and six teachers. The survey now shows the percentage of Americans who want more gun legislation to have fallen below the 50 percent mark to only 47 percent, while the number of those who believe the laws should stay as they are has risen to 39 percent from 30 percent three months ago.

Gun control advocates lament this change and say, as the president did today, that it is a function of forgetfulness. That’s why, as Seth wrote earlier, the Michael Bloomberg-funded campaign to promote the issue is seeking to rekindle outrage over Sandy Hook with emotion-laden commercials depicting the parents of the victims. But the problem here is not a lack of concern for the memory of the slain or callousness on the part of growing numbers of Americans. It is the fact that the case for the president’s proposals relies primarily on just this sort of emotion rather than reason. The longer we have to think about it, the less sense these restrictions make to people.

The president and other gun control advocates are right when they criticize those opponents who frame gun rights in absolute terms. The Second Amendment does not prohibit the regulation of guns or even the banning of some sorts of weapons. But to concede that point does not mean that every proposed restriction makes sense or, more to the point, would prevent another Newtown or even lower gun violence in general. Indeed, in their more candid moments, President Obama and Vice President Biden have conceded that this is true.

Many Americans reflexively support any restriction on guns just as some are knee-jerk opponents of even the most reasonable ideas about regulating them. But the more such issues are discussed, the more apparent it becomes to thinking voters that banning certain types of rifles that look like military weapons or even requiring more background checks to complete a legal gun sale is not likely to stop an insane person from committing a massacre. Nor is there much reason to believe such laws will stop criminals from gaining access to illegal weapons.

Seen in that light, the rationale for more gun control boils down to either a general desire to restrict gun rights (a sentiment that is more prevalent among liberals than the president and those who agree with him like to admit) or a desire for a gesture to show our frustration with a problem that transcends theoretical Second Amendment debates.

While a majority of Americans and perhaps even a majority of Congress can agree to more background checks, the notion that more emotional appeals are what the country needs when discussing guns belies the fact that advocates are bereft of better reasoned arguments.

A purely cold-blooded mode of public advocacy has its drawbacks. We ought to care deeply about the issues of the day and there is nothing wrong with sometimes expressing our views with passion. But there is a difference between a passion for the public good and waving the bloody shirt of Newtown or any other tragedy.

The founders of our republic espoused representative democracy and a system of checks and balances specifically because they rightly feared a government that was governed by the emotional whims of the mob. They understood that mobs—whether they consist of 18th century street toughs or 21st century viewers who are easily influenced by inflammatory images—do not reason. They emote. And what results from such emotions is likely to be the opposite of good public policy.

All of which means that the more gun control advocates feel compelled to show disturbing videos of grieving parents, the weaker their case must be. It’s not that we’ve forgotten Newtown, but that more of us have come to understand that we ought not allow our sadness over this tragedy to be exploited by political operatives who are interested in furthering an ideological agenda rather than saving lives.

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Democrats Still Spinning Their Wheels on Gun Control

Yesterday, as Nancy Pelosi insisted the Democrats had not “lost momentum” on their push for gun control, one thing became clear: the Democrats had absolutely lost momentum on their push for gun control. Pelosi may have been trying to put a brave face on the Democrats’ gun-ban failure, but she undermined her own words of encouragement in the same breath, the Hill reports:

“Say it doesn’t prevail, just for the sake of argument,” she said. “It argues all the more strongly for having the toughest; best; most effective background checks, instead of diluting the background checks, because we might not succeed with the assault weapons ban.”

But even more of an indication of the direction of this legislative battle than Pelosi’s comments was the reaction New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg received when he tried to threaten Democrats in pro-gun states.

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Yesterday, as Nancy Pelosi insisted the Democrats had not “lost momentum” on their push for gun control, one thing became clear: the Democrats had absolutely lost momentum on their push for gun control. Pelosi may have been trying to put a brave face on the Democrats’ gun-ban failure, but she undermined her own words of encouragement in the same breath, the Hill reports:

“Say it doesn’t prevail, just for the sake of argument,” she said. “It argues all the more strongly for having the toughest; best; most effective background checks, instead of diluting the background checks, because we might not succeed with the assault weapons ban.”

But even more of an indication of the direction of this legislative battle than Pelosi’s comments was the reaction New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg received when he tried to threaten Democrats in pro-gun states.

The Associated Press reports that since persuading voters and their elected representatives of the wisdom and utility of liberal gun legislation has favored conservatives and constitutionalists, President Obama and Bloomberg are going to try other methods: scare tactics, raw appeals to emotion through the president’s exploitation of the grief of families of Newtown victims, and lots and lots of money.

Democrats who represent pro-Second Amendment states are pushing back, however. The beauty of America’s cultural diversity is that many Americans live in states where they don’t have to ask their government’s permission to retrieve a soda or sandwich from their refrigerator, as New York’s Pop Czar would prefer. Those same voters often don’t like various other constitutional protections infringed upon, and their elected representatives know this. The AP notes that North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor are two prominent examples:

“I do not need someone from New York City to tell me how to handle crime in our state. I know that we can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans,” Heitkamp said this week, citing the constitutional right to bear arms.

Heitkamp does not face re-election next year, but Pryor and five other Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning or closely divided states do. All six, from Southern and Western states, will face voters whose deep attachment to guns is unshakeable – not to mention opposition from the still-potent National Rifle Association, should they vote for restrictions the NRA opposes.

There’s that phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of Democrats: “will face voters.” Democrats keep forgetting about that part. The AP even does its part to try and help, as the press so often does, by mentioning that increased federal background checks for gun buyers would constitute “the remaining primary proposal pushed by Obama and many Democrats since 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.”

The juxtaposition there is interesting, because the increased background checks–some of which are eminently sensible, unlike the random attempted gun ban–would not seem to have prevented the Newtown tragedy. But this is not really the point, as evidenced by the president’s strategy of attempting to establish his moral superiority instead of productively partaking in crafting meaningful legislation. And it is also nothing new. This hews closely to the habit of the president and his party, whether it be global warming legislation that his own government administrators admit won’t curb global warming; universal health insurance legislation that the Congressional Budget Office admits will likely kick millions of Americans off their existing plans and will incentivize those who tend not to buy insurance to continue not buying insurance; or “consumer protection” financial legislation that reinforces the federal government’s penchant for bailouts and solidifies the concept of “too big to fail” as federal policy underwritten by taxpayer money.

Voters are already wary of policies they see as violating their constitutional freedoms. They will only be more so as the Obama administration continues to push legislation that perpetuates, rather than solves, the problems it’s designed to address.

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Why Biden Won’t Fold on the Gun Ban

Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

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Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

The vice president is following a script heavy on emotion and symbolism and light on practicality. Of course, that’s national politics much of the time. But it hasn’t had much success thus far on the gun control debate. The best example of this failure is not Reid’s decision to pull the gun ban from a bill that might otherwise pass the Senate and at least enact some additional regulation of gun purchases, but rather what happened when New York State passed a gun bun.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appealed to emotion after the Newtown tragedy and created a crisis atmosphere to force through a restrictive gun ban. The bill Cuomo proudly signed was a perfectly contemptible example of bad governing. He would like it to go on his resume has having taken action on an issue of import, but it really attests to how ill-served voters are to have someone like Cuomo represent them in office. At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson explains:

The NY Gun law effectively banned the purchase of new pistols because pistols are not generally made to hold 7-round magazines, and even if some manufacturers would produce such magazines for the NY market, it still presented a constitutional problem:  Under the Heller and McDonald cases, the state cannot effectively ban handguns either outright or by setting up irrational and onerous obstacles.

Such a law can only be written and supported by someone who doesn’t know much about handguns, constitutional law, or reasonable policy enforcement. So says Cuomo himself, about his own bill:

But after weeks of criticism from gun owners, Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday that he would seek to ease the restriction, which he said had proved unworkable even before it was scheduled to take effect on April 15.

The gun-control law, approved in January, banned the sale of magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition. But, Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday, seven-round magazines are not widely manufactured. And, although the new gun law provided an exemption for the use of 10-round magazines at firing ranges and competitions, it did not provide a legal way for gun owners to purchase such magazines.

The obvious question is: Couldn’t Cuomo have found all this out before signing the bill? And the obvious answer is: Absolutely. But Cuomo saw an opportunity to “do something” and took it. Which brings us back to Biden. The vice president and Bloomberg gave a press conference surrounded by family of victims of the Newtown massacre and urged the political class to pass a gun ban in the name of those victims. Isn’t this exactly what ran aground both in New York and in the U.S. Senate?

It is. But Biden has much more of a stake in passing hearty gun control than even Cuomo, and certainly than his boss in the White House or Harry Reid. Biden was tasked by President Obama with leading the way on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Connecticut. Biden is trying to build his own White House resume, independent of Obama’s, because while Obama never has to face the voters again, Biden may want to run for president to succeed Obama. To do that, he’ll need to prove he’s more than just a schmoozer. The only way Biden has a shot is by establishing competence and authority. Biden, unlike Obama, Reid, and even, to a lesser extent, Cuomo, has too much riding on this losing hand to fold.

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Pop Culture, Violence, and Shoddy Social Science

One of the signal figures of the early 1950s was a psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham, who wrote a bestselling book called The Seduction of the Innocent—a book that had the kind of impact beyond the fantasies of most writers. By supposedly demonstrating that comic books were warping the minds of young boys and making them violent and comfortable with violence, Wertham and his work became the focus of some of the first publicity-bait Congressional hearings and led the comics industry to censor itself to prevent official censorship.

Does this all sound familiar, in the wake of Sandy Hook? Well, here’s the cautionary note: Wertham made it up. A site called bleedingcool.com has uncovered an academic paper by Carol Tilley detailing Wertham’s unethical conduct in collecting data points and research, which involves wholesale distortions of the information he did have and clear invention in other cases.

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One of the signal figures of the early 1950s was a psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham, who wrote a bestselling book called The Seduction of the Innocent—a book that had the kind of impact beyond the fantasies of most writers. By supposedly demonstrating that comic books were warping the minds of young boys and making them violent and comfortable with violence, Wertham and his work became the focus of some of the first publicity-bait Congressional hearings and led the comics industry to censor itself to prevent official censorship.

Does this all sound familiar, in the wake of Sandy Hook? Well, here’s the cautionary note: Wertham made it up. A site called bleedingcool.com has uncovered an academic paper by Carol Tilley detailing Wertham’s unethical conduct in collecting data points and research, which involves wholesale distortions of the information he did have and clear invention in other cases.

I haven’t read the paper, for a journal called Information and Culture, but here’s the precis: 

Although there have been persistent concerns about the clinical evidence Wertham used as the basis for Seduction, his sources were made widely available only in 2010. This paper documents specific examples of how Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain.

This kind of thing happens all the time when social scientists attempt to show links between consumption of popular culture and human behavior, though it’s often skewed by means such as ridiculously small sample sizes for studies or questions so outrageously tilted they can only be answered as the researcher would wish them to be.

This is no way to make public policy, but here we are, yet again, following inexplicable massacres, looking to video games or shoot-em-ups or some other supposedly causative factor when the simple fact is that when 99.9 percent of those who consume the offending material do not harm others because of it, it cannot be a determinant.

This also allows me to link to one of the greatest essays ever published in COMMENTARY, by the peerless Robert Warshow, who died tragically at the age of 37 in 1955 and whose posthumous collection, The Immediate Experience, remains the best example of how to write well and seriously about popular culture in a way that does not overrate its artistic value nor underrate its emotional power. The essay, “Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham,” is an examination of Warshow’s uneasiness both with Wertham’s approach and his young son’s love of the comic books Wertham was gunning for. It’s a masterpiece. Read it here.

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